Maya the sommelier was the latest cast-off on Everlasting, the fictional reality dating competition that is the focus of Lifetime’s UnREAL, the runaway hit “loosely based” on shows “like” The Bachelor. (The show’s creator, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, once worked on the ABC reality series, but for liability reasons nobody on the show will spell out the obvious.)
Portrayed by Natasha Wilson, Maya was one of the more level-headed of the contestants vying for the heart (and, in some cases, estate) of Adam (Freddie Stroma). However, her time on Everlasting was fairly traumatizing. Desperate to win a friend of Adam’s, Maya was coaxed into drinking past her limit and was taken advantage of as a result. Typical victim-blaming ensued, but an act of kindness from Adam — and her own inner strength — had her staying to compete another day.
However, Everlasting became too much for her on Monday’s episode when the fallout from Mary’s (Ashley Scott) suicide made it clear to Maya that producers were only interested in creating fake drama, largely unbothered by the ensuing real-life consequences.
In a chat with EW, Wilson shares what was going on in her character’s mind when she stayed following her sexual abuse, and why she finally decided to leave. The actress also reveals that UnREAL’s portrayal of the behind-the-scenes producer manipulation on shows “like” The Bachelor is more realistic than you might think.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it like playing a character who was sexually assaulted and then blamed for it? Not only was it difficult to watch, but it was difficult to understand why she would have stuck around.
NATASHA WILSON: It was a devastating experience. Maya was fighting for Adam, and she decided that she needed to please his friend in order to get to him. She wanted to be accepted, but Adam’s friend was in it for the wrong reasons. He really took advantage of Maya. Even though Maya is a sommelier, she is not the type to drink hard alcohol — she’s more sophisticated and more shy in that respect. Maya holds herself to a higher standard in general and doesn’t get involved in the catfights and gossip.
She was completely taken advantage of and her dignity was shot — that’s what left her fighting to win. To overcome that shame, that regret, and the overall abuse that occurred. It appeared to be very weak for her to stay, but in her mind, she’s thinking, “I’m going to get through this.” But it must have been very difficult for women to watch.
Given that Maya has such a level head on her shoulders, why would someone like her choose to be on a show like The Bachelor?
The Bachelor has become so sensationalized and has been on the air for so long that I think now it’s kind of an accepted thing. Like, “Yeah, you know what, maybe I’ll try out.” It’s another alternative to meeting someone, like online dating or meeting through friends or school. Before I did UnREAL, even my girlfriends were like, “We should nominate you!” It’s about hope.
Even though it’s a silly show, I don’t think the average viewer really understands what really goes on. People audition for this show. They’re screened, and they’ve been selected for a myriad of reasons. The average person who signs up for it doesn’t really understand what’s going on — they get involved and they’re so hooked on finding love that they’re just like, “I’ll sign whatever, I’ll move to wherever you guys need me to, and I’ll stay there for however many months and weeks you need me to be there.”
It’s kind of everyone’s last ditch effort. What ends up happening is most of the candidates end up getting really jaded. It’s horrible. It’s like a human experiment.
What viewers seem to be most surprised by is the level of producer intervention shown on UnREAL. How true to reality would you say that is?
Extremely, extremely realistic. The show was created out of a need to tell the truth. The exact story lines may or may not have occurred in the shows on which UnREAL is based, but it’s so true. [Shapiro] was a field producer and she just couldn’t stand it. She ran away to Portland and it was only when she went through her huge meltdown that they finally let her out of her contract and she got away and said, “This story needs to be told.” And that’s when she did her short film, Sequin Raze.
It’s all based on previous experience or an understanding of what may have occurred had things continued to go on the way they were going on — the things [Shapiro] had witnessed.
Do you watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette?
Of course! I mean, everybody did. We fell in love with the human beings that were on the show just like the producers wanted us to, and we hated the ones that were made to be the villains. It all works as storytelling is planned for television. It’s the most intelligent storytelling, because you don’t realize you’re being completely duped as a viewer.
The show has become huge — especially for a Lifetime show. It’s fair to say this is your biggest role so far — what’s it like to sign up for this random Lifetime pilot and then all of a sudden it’s all anyone is talking about?
I had been auditioning and auditioning and auditioning. I had no idea what I booked, it was like, “Yay, I get to work!” My excitement occurred more organically as I hung out with the cast and the show continued to develop. It was one of those shows where it was like, “Wow, this is something so touching because it’s so authentic,” and in that sense that’s where the excitement grew.
We shot the pilot two years ago, and then a year later we did the first season. It’s just been this long journey of trying to bring this truth to life. The excitement is not necessarily in the viewership, but in the authenticity of the piece that I’m working on. It’s like a grassroots uprising awareness campaign, like, this is what actually goes on — do you really want to keep watching these shows?
UnREAL airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on Lifetime.